The circumstances of the last year have left many of us experiencing grief, loss, frustration, and anger; wrestling with the emotional fallout from the pandemic and often feeling as though we are doing so in isolation. The simplicity and self-reflection of Lent have seemed less of a change from the norm during our lockdown life. Endless Zoom calls, fleeting hellos across the local park or a brief wave at the shops have at times seemed like a pale imitation of the sense of connectedness that we previously enjoyed in our communities and churches. How could we best encourage one another as Hebrews 10 encourages us to, even as we were unable to meet together in person?
Fourteen churches from across the Lambeth North Deanery joined together to plan an eight-mile-long Passion Trail, wanting to draw people together in the midst of our separation, to provide an opportunity during Lent to explore the persistence of solidarity, love and hope amid the darkness of injustice, pain and despair of the last year. They created a trail to be a self-guided journey of discovery between Clapham, Brixton, Stockwell, Vauxhall, Kennington and Waterloo, with interactive art and activities for all ages that told the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture and death, featuring specially created art installations that interpreted the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Beginning with the online opening service, streamed from St Andrew’s School in Stockwell at 10.00, my family of five decided to cycle the trail over the course of the day, culminating by attending the service at St John’s Waterloo at 16.30.
Each of the stations brought something unique to the trail. From walking round the Garden of Eden in Clapham and meeting the churchyard cat, to the live worship band at St Mark, Kennington, and experiencing art in almost every imaginable form, the trail felt like a feast for weary senses in the middle of Lent, especially having been in the same space at home for so long. There was music, poetry and painting, as well an angel hunt, a life-sized pin art board and the recreation of a painting by Rubens using plants and flowers.
What felt most powerful however, was the sense of togetherness despite the maintaining of social distancing. There was so much joy in joining something produced collaboratively by so many different churches, each with their own unique offering, yet blending together seamlessly into one trail. A coming together as we prepared to move from the solemnity of Lent into the celebration of Easter.
This sense of being together while apart was reinforced by the opportunity to spend a little time, at a distance, talking with people we didn’t know but with whom we share our faith, our Deanery and our Diocese. Every volunteer manning a table, directing us to chalk or paints, showing us the apples and pointing my enthusiastic children towards the churchyard cat, had a smile and a cheery greeting. We saw a handful of different people at every station, stewarding, or sharing the journey with us. After wary social communication for so long, the chance to have a sense of fellowship and a shared joy with each new person we met.
Everyone we spoke to had made a slightly different contribution – from Henry who spent three weeks crafting the clay sculpture of Christ taking up his cross, to Fr Sebastian proudly showing us the relatively new chapel at St Gabriel’s school.
Each of us found different stations to be especially moving or enjoyable. (I fear my children’s preferences might be based primarily on the food-gifts offered at several stops!) But for me, it was the people we met along the journey who had the most impact. Different people at each stage had something to share or point out, something to show us that we might not have noticed alone before we hurried on to the next station.
One person in particular kept reappearing as we weaved our way around South London. From our initial quick wave at the fifth station in Brixton onwards, we seemed to keep spotting one Revd Giles Goddard – stopping for a chat about the qualities of our hot dog lunches from the farmer’s market as we sat on a picnic rug by St Mark’s, saying hello as we admired the painting of Christ on the cross outside St Anne and All Saints, Vauxhall. The boys began to think we were playing a game of “Where’s Giles?” as we crossed paths again at St Anselm. And then we reached our final destination of St John, Waterloo, and while the kids played hide and seek among the undulating churchyard garden, Giles began to prepare for the outdoor closing service, asking me if I would read the gospel having completed the trail.
Giles is someone I’ve met at Diocesan meetings before, but there is something that feels more meaningful about a shared journey, a shared experience, paths overlapping and criss-crossing for a time, that reminds me of Psalm 133 – “How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!” Whatever our differences (and the pandemic has highlighted many differences in our world) as the body of Christ we are members of the same body who belong to each other.
For me, this connectedness and the community of Church is what I have missed the most. The fellowship in person with one another. As we move from Lent to Easter and prepare to celebrate the Resurrection (and the lifting of restrictions), it is this that I’m looking forward to the most – a shared experience of worship, of liturgy, the journeying together week in week out as a church community. But for now, the trail has reminded me that my church community truly does go wider than my parish – journeying together we can be more than the sum of our parts, just as the 14 stations on Saturday each provided one stop but became transformative together.
Find out more about the various stations here: https://www.lambethnorthdeanery.org/passion